Somewhere along the plains of Africa both predator and prey come together like flocks of royal-watchers to celebrate the birth of their future king. Caught up in the ceremony, we the humble onlookers join them in that magical song: “Ah! Savenia! Whatsthedealyamamma!?” The Lion King stands tall and proud as Disney’s golden child. Straight out of 1994 it waves down at us from the peak of Disney’s animated era of success. It unites award-winning music, breathtaking imagery, and a dramatic, emotional story about a young prince filling some very large, kingly paw prints. Disney put everything they had into this film, turning The Lion King into an instant classic and a champion among animated movies.
Young Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is son to the great ruler, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones). Simba dreams of being a “mighty king,” the true “main event,” until an unforeseen incident forces him to re-evaluate his future. Wicked Uncle Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) – because sweet fellas don’t call themselves “Scar” – has his eye on Mufasa’s throne and will do whatever it takes to claim it for his own. His evil plot chases Simba out of the pride lands, traumatizing him for life and conveniently freeing up the line of succession.
The Lion King stands on four basic pillars: father-son relationships, the circle of life, responsibility, and untrustworthy uncles. Almost all of these lessons (three guesses which ones) come to us through the velvety smooth voice of Mufasa. James Earl Jones has apparently swapped “I am your father” for the remarkably similar, “You are my son.” To be fair, with that voice, the man could read me his grocery list and I would be positively hypnotized.
Mufasa is the model father: he’s strong, powerful, playful, and responsible. Next to him, Simba looks like a fluffy, snarky dust bunny, as well as notably puny and adorable. Watching the big lion and the little lion play-fight in the grass is just heartwarming. Why, Disney? Why ruin the fantasy? What’s wrong with a son idolizing his father and the father happily playing the idol? Look at your history. What’s so poisonous about a healthy family dynamic??
There are so many beautiful moments to enjoy in The Lion King, from the story, to character development, to the animation. I laughed when I pulled away the cobwebs, dusted off the player, and inserted my VHS copy (pre-rewound) saying, “Who’s ready for 1994 picture quality?” Well wouldn’t you know it when the next things I see are soft colours and the vibrant African savanna!
Some moments in The Lion King, however, are just too funny. And I don’t mean Timon and Pumbaa’s fart jokes. When Adult Simba (voiced by Matthew Broderick) and Nala (voiced by Moira Kelly) sing their “Love” song and do a casual roll in the bushes, the saucy bedroom eyes that Nala fires at Simba sent me laughing right off the end of the couch. I still cannot even deal. The epic showdown between Simba and Scar, on the other hand, looks like a kitten slap-fight – in slow motion. We’ve already seen Scar strangle his underlings and dig his claws into other lions’ flesh; surely we could add a few teeth to this duel and not scare away too many child viewers?
In the end The Lion King comes out a champion. Disney obviously put a great deal of preparation into the plot, characters, and setting of the film. This is what it looks like when an animated movie comes from patience, research, and planning. Adult Simba may be rocking the 1990’s greasy bangs look, but no amount of time will make the bond between Simba and his father feel out of date. The Lion King is a masterpiece and a 9/10.